Stressing the need for a strong and vigilant Navy to defend the mainland, island territories and offshore assets, Defence Minister A.K. Antony on Saturday announced that the Navy would get seven more frigates under the next P-17A project.
“Cost negotiations are on into the P-17A project and once that is done, the proposal will go to the Cabinet Committee on Security [CCS] for approval,” Mr. Antony told journalists at Mazagon Dock Limited [MDL] complex here. He said the Navy would continue to get five warships of different capabilities every year. He said the prevailing downturn in the economic situation would not affect defence plans.
“First, let us spend the money which we have and then we will ask the government for more,” he said.
The Defence Minister was talking to media persons after commissioning INS Sahyadri, a Shivalik class stealth frigate, equipped with an array of modern weapons and sensors to operate both in peacetime and a multithreat environment. The warship has been built by MDL over the past seven years.
Mr. Antony said a strong Navy would successfully defend India’s exclusive economic zone along the country’s vast coastline and maintain sea lanes of communication.
“The maintenance of a strong and credible Navy and strengthening cooperation and friendship with other countries to promote regional and global stability is the need of the hour. Today’s commissioning of the third stealth frigate of Shivalik class, therefore, marks yet another significant step in securing our maritime goals,” he said.
Pointing out that the Navy’s role as a key facilitator in promoting peace and stability in the Indian Ocean Region has been highly appreciated, Mr. Antony cautioned that the present operating environment of “our Navy dictates that we balance our resources with a strategy that is responsive across the full range of blue and brown water operations.”
The Minister said the Navy must maintain operational readiness at all times to thwart any possible misadventure directed against India’s national interests. “The country’s warship building programme must meet the Navy’s force-level requirements. Over the years, there has been a gradual shift from being a Buyer’s Navy to a Builder’s Navy,” he said.
Mr. Antony said the focus must be on benchmarking our shipbuilding practices with the best international ones. He urged Indian industry to participate wholeheartedly in shipbuilding programmes and consolidate the Navy’s strengths.
Later, responding to questions from journalists, Mr. Antony said that in the past six months four rounds of discussions with the chiefs of three services have been held and defence procurement and the armed forces’ modernisation programme was going on smoothly.
On queries about allegations of corruption and leakages in the armed forces and the alleged involvement of controversial arms middleman Abhishek Verma in some deals, the Minister said some cases had already been referred to and were being probed by the Central Bureau of Investigation and the Enforcement Directorate.
With the commissioning of this indigenous stealth frigate, the third and last in the Shivalik class series, the Navy has added teeth to its surface combatants’ fleet. The first two stealth frigates in the class are INS Shivalik and INS Satpura, which are now on active naval duty, including anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden. The three stealth frigates in the P-17 project have cost about Rs. 10,000 crore.
INS Shivalik had only recently sailed up to China’s western Pacific coast on a long haul deployment and had docked in Shanghai. The Project 17 warships — the 143-metre-long, 6,000-tonne vessels named after Indian hill ranges — have advanced design and stealth features.
INS Sahyadri is equipped with some of the most advanced surface and air-to-air missiles of Russian, European and Israeli origin and can carry two helicopters — a mix of Dhrun, Sea King or Kamov — on board. A crew of 300 officers and men from the Navy will man the frigate.
Captain Sanjay Vatsayan, the Commanding Officer, read out the commissioning warrant amid cheers from a distinguished gathering. Among those present were Union Ministers Sachin Pilot and Milind Deora, Defence Secretary S.K. Sharma, Chief of the Naval Staff Admiral Nirmal Verma and senior Navy officers.